Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Blow Dry



UK 2001
dir Paddy Breathnach
scr based on screenplay Never Better by Simon Beaufoy
stars Natasha Richardson, Alan Rickman, Bill Nighy, Josh Hartnett

Yet another by-the-numbers British comedy in which plucky underdogs triumph against the odds, Blow Dry is a self-conscious attempt to craft a Yank-friendly package in the Full Monty vein. Its even based on one of Monty screenwriter Beaufoys old scripts – shades of rummaging around in the backs of drawers, maybe. But its been so Hollywooded up under the influence of Miramax that Beaufoy is now trying to distance himself from the project: hence the extremely unusual based on a screenplay by credit.

The gimmick this time is hairdressing – barely a year since Craig Ferguson combed similar territory with The Big Tease – as the UK national championships take place in Keighley. The film was actually shot miles away in Batley and Dewsbury, which is odd, given the way Keighley is the butt of so many of the jokes. As is traditional with a tournament-based picture, were rapidly introduced to a diverse roster of contestants, most of whom have some history with each other going way back. The main action focuses on the goodies (cancer sufferer Richardson, her lover Rachel Griffiths, Richardsons son Hartnett and her estranged husband, old-style Keighley barber Rickman) and the baddies (a big-city team led by flamboyant cheat Nighy, easily the hammiest, funniest, best thing in the picture), and the plot develops in strictly join-the-dots style, right up to the inevitable cliffhanger of the final round.

Blow Dry isn’t at all bad, starting off strongly and rising a notch whenever Nighy is allowed to strut his stuff – but it is a step backward for Irish director Breathnach following 1997s promising debut I Went Down. It also falls a long way short of its most similar current competition, American dog-tournament pseudo-documentary Best In Show: while the British picture tries to cater for all ages by hovering uncomfortably between campy laughs (Nighy) and heart-rending tragedy (Richardson), Best sticks firmly to the comic stuff, and is loose, improvisatory approach makes for a much livelier, more enjoyable experience. Its not just a case of Americans making better movies – rising British comic Peter Kay pops up briefly as an audience member, reminding us that his Channel 4 shows handle this kind of material with much more wit and verve.

Finally, a word about Josh Hartnett: unnnghhhhh! American studios have insisted on US stars appearing in the British movies they fund since the earliest days of Hammer. It makes sense for Miramax to use Hartnett and Rachel Leigh Cook, their presence rather more likely to suck in mallrat bucks than, say, Warren Clarke (whos fine as Keighleys mayor, though no match for Best In Shows rough equivalent Fred Willard.) Leigh Cooks character is from Minneapolis – but Hartnett is supposed to be a local lad. Hes a charismatic young actor, albeit one known for knife-and-fork hairstyles in Halloween H20 and The Faculty, and this is, on paper, a sharp career move for him. But every time he opens his mouth the picture grinds to a sudden halt, as both he and the audience grapple with a tortuous hybrid of (vague) Yorkshire, Geordie, California, Oxbridge and Irish accents – the latter probably a subconscious mimickry of director Breathnachs own brogue – all delivered in a rumbling slacker mumble. Couldnt they have just made him mute? It wouldn’t be the corniest thing in the picture, after all…

31st January 2001

by Neil Young